While I tend to focus on the sluggish growth in the US economy, I recently did some research on the conditions in Greece just for a comparison, and was stunned by how bad things are in that country. There is no question in my mind that Greece is living through its own horrible version of the Great Depression. The Greek population is literally abandoning the cities and going back to the land to survive, and we also have the horrific scene of a despaired pensioner shooting himself in front of the Greek Parliament.
To get a sense of the awful state of the Greek economy, it is worth considering some recent statistics from Greece. Here is the latest up-to-date chart on Greece's GDP, which has shrunk approximately 15% since 2008:
Meanwhile, Greek industrial production has fallen off a cliff:
Greece's retail sales are collapsing:
Unemployment has doubled in the last three years and is now at 22% and rising - which was approximately where US unemployment stood in 1933 during the depths of the Great Depression:
Although much of the eurozone is in turmoil, I choose to focus on Greece as the Greek elections are set to occur this upcoming Sunday, June 17th, and there are some immediate trading implications of these elections.
The Greek elections will essentially determine if Greece stays in the euro or exits the eurozone and returns to the drachma. On the one hand, the Greek New Democracy Party, essentially considered center right, is largely in favor of implementing the conditions imposed on Greece by its creditors, which are outlined in the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) Greece signed with the EU-IMF. Any additional EU-IMF support is contingent on Greece's continued acceptance of the strict austerity measures required under the MOU.
The leading left wing party competing with New Democracy in the Greek elections is Syriza, led by its charismatic young leader Alexis Tsipras. Syriza has promised to annul or "radically renegotiate" the terms of the MOU, and the party rejects additional austerity measures as unacceptable. If Greece were to refuse to comply with the agreed upon requirements for continuing to receive bailout funds, the EU will likely end the payments to Greece that have been used to pay the massive debts of Greek banks. The UK's Guardian newspaper has an excellent article summarizing what is at stake for Greece in the upcoming elections:
"Creditors have made it clear that if Athens rescinds the structural reforms seen as vital to kick starting its moribund economy, further injections of cash will stop. Without the money, Greece will have to default, declare bankruptcy and leave the eurozone, sending the 17-nation bloc into a tailspin from which the global economy might take decades to recover. The stakes have never been higher."
Given the chaos that may ensue after Sunday's upcoming elections, investors would be wise to consider how they might protect themselves and/or benefit from the results. I see a number of options:
For those inclined to bet on New Democracy emerging victorious from the elections, which would surely send a jolt of euphoria through the markets, the only ETF with 100% exposure to Greek equities is the Global X FTSE Greece 20 ETF (GREK).
Another alternative to play the upside to the Greek elections is the Vanguard European Stock ETF (VGK). For those feeling adventurous, there is the ProShares Ultra MSCI Europe ETF (UPV) which seeks a return of 200% on a daily basis of the performance of the MSCI Europe Index.
If you want to protect yourself from the possibility of the chaos that may ensue from the Greek elections, I like the PowerShares DB USD Bull ETF (UUP), as there will likely be a huge flight out of risk assets into the dollar. In a similar vein, I also believe that Treasury bonds are an excellent hedge and I like the iShares Barclays 1-3 Year Treasury Bond ETF (SHY), the iShares Barclays 3-7 Year Treasury Bond ETF (IEI) or the iShares Barclays 7-10 Year Treasury Bond ETF (IEF).
Finally, an interesting long-short play might be to go long the SPDR S&P 500 Trust ETF (SPY), while simultaneously shorting the Vanguard European Stock ETF (VGK). The theory behind this trade is that if disaster strikes the markets, all stocks will go down, but European equities will likely fare worse than equities in the US, as Europe, of course, is ground-zero for the euro crisis.